Family Caregiver 101

abc books chalk chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Being a family caregiver certainly isn’t a job for sissies! This is a commitment that requires careful consideration and thoughtful preparation. It’s not for everyone! But if you are called to this avocation for a period of time, you need to understand several important elements involved in becoming a family caregiver. Among these are the time requirement, the level of care needed, the cost to you, others in your life and your job or career, and whether you are physically strong enough to deliver the necessary care.

Account for the time required. For some family caregivers, only a little time is required to provide the care needed. Maybe you will be driving your mom to occasional doctor’s appointments because she can’t navigate the complexities of the medical system. Perhaps you will find yourself needing to provide more care over time if she has dementia or if her physical health is declining rapidly. And if a catastrophic event occurs your time requirement might become 24/7 with no notice at all. You need to take a realistic look at whether you can make the commitment to cover whatever time is needed to provide the care.

Bearing the burden of care can be overwhelming. Defining the type of care needed is also essential before you become a family caregiver. While your dad might need bathing assistance and you think you can probably help him with that, you need to ask yourself if you would be comfortable providing intimate care and if he will allow you to perform this task for him. My brother told me he could never have helped our mother with a bath, but I performed that task every time I visited during the last year of her life. Assistance with personal care needs like bathing, toileting, dressing, walking and getting up or down from chairs or beds is both physically demanding for the caregiver and personally embarrassing for the care recipient. Talk with a medical professional to learn about your loved one’s care needs, and if you don’t feel competent or physically able to provide the necessary level of care, ask if there is a service available in your community that might be able to help with those tasks you cannot do.

Count the cost to you and others. When you become a family caregiver, there is definitely a cost to be considered. If your care will require you to take time away from your marriage, raising your children, volunteer organizations or even a job or career, be certain that you can afford the emotional and financial cost to you and those around you. If you are stepping away from your workplace, ask if you qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act. This can help you keep your job security while you work out longer term care needs. Be clear in communication with your spouse, partner, or others in your life as you make the decision to invest in your loved one’s care needs. Ask yourself and others if becoming a family caregiver will require major changes in your own life, like moving in with your loved one or quitting your job to provide care. Are others in your life supportive of your decision, or will negative emotions complicate the situation?

As in all things, if you are or have been a family caregiver, hindsight is always twenty-twenty, so what are your “ABC’s” that might help someone else whose caregiving walk is just beginning?

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about things you learned along the way as a family caregiver.

Family Caregivers are SuperHeroes!

gold coloured human statue
Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

As we move from the holidays into a new year, Betsy and I would like to thank you for sharing your hearts over the past two years about caring for older family members. Your stories of family conflicts, the need for support groups, and dealing with feelings that range from joy to desperation have touched our hearts. You inspire us each day to strive to help you in your caregiving journey. The issues family caregivers face are sometimes simple, but at other times they boggle the mind.

Every situation is unique, and every family caregiver needs to equip themselves with a vast array of resources to draw from so they can successfully manage almost any situation imaginable! You must be flexible, resilient, resourceful, and faithful to the tasks and responsibilities you have taken upon yourself. Some days are harder than others, and every hour holds its own challenges. You might not have chosen this path, and nobody ever aspires to it, but if you find yourself needing to care for another, we want you to know that you are not lost or forgotten.

You are the unsung superheroes of our society. Nobody writes books or movie scripts about you. Rarely are you recognized on stage with a plaque or a trophy. Most of your work is done behind closed doors, and there is no audience giving you applause. Being a family caregiver is mostly thankless work unless you draw your strength from sources other than worldly praise. God sees what you do every hour of every day. He knows how hard you try to manage, and He will give you the strength to keep going through even the most difficult of days.

There may not be a building named after you, but you are a towering presence in your loved one’s life, and one day your faithful walk will be rewarded. Just hold on and press ahead, one step, one minute, one breath at a time. Reach out to God and others to share your journey and ask for help. Every superhero needs supporters. Find yours.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about tools and techniques that help you be someone’s caregiving superhero.

 

Finding Joy in Christmas

grayscale photo of baby feet with father and mother hands in heart signs
Photo by Andreas Wohlfahrt on Pexels.com

December 24: Finding Joy in Christmas

 Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let Earth receive her King! It’s one of my favorite carols; I want the whole world to know the King has come! He was promised for so long, and in so many ways throughout scripture, Israel was told to anticipate his coming with joy and anticipation. But hundreds of years and many generations passed before the Promised One arrived. Israel grew tired of waiting and wondered what to expect.

When He did arrive, the Messiah was nothing at all like the waiting people imagined. A tiny baby was born to a young woman who conceived the child before she was married, and her betrothed who chose to take her as his wife and raise her child as his in spite of her embarrassing condition. Both were visited by an angel beforehand who gave them encouragement and instruction. Mary and Joseph were humble and obedient, but together they wondered at the circumstances of Jesus’ birth. They were no doubt frightened, confused, and apprehensive about what lay ahead for the infant they brought into the world that night.

And then the choir of angels appeared in the sky, praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men (people) of good will!” The shepherds heard this heavenly announcement and came to see the baby lying in a manger. They were amazed at what they saw, and they went away rejoicing. The shepherds were probably the first people to actually experience joy on this strange, mysterious, wondrous night.

Joy is exuberant, an explosion of deep peace, contentment, celebration, elation, and glee. Joy exceeds happiness because it is more profound than one’s immediate circumstances. Joy is an overarching emotion that casts brilliant light into all the dark spaces of our hearts and leaves us radiant with hope. The shepherds were the lowliest of society at that time. They lived in the wilderness with their sheep. They mostly slept in caves or out in the fields. They rarely bathed, had virtually no creature comforts, and were only important as field hands who tended the flocks. Their lives were hard and offered few opportunities for rejoicing, but they found overwhelming, undeniable joy in this first Christmas.

When your caregiving journey seems unbearably long or is nothing like you imagined it might be, take a breath and a step back. During this Christmas season find a moment’s joy in the unexpected blessing of a tender moment with your loved one, or a surprise visit from a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Ponder the words in a favorite Christmas carol. Lose yourself in the mystery of the advent of a Messiah who came to save the world but started out small, helpless, and completely dependent on others to accomplish his purpose. Just think, you don’t have to be a savior; you only have to find a spot of joy in each day. When you do, you’ll find the strength to make it through another minute, another hour, another day, and the joy will increase as you continue to collect those moments.

This week we finally get to celebrate the advent of the Christ, come to the world as an infant but with the hope of all creation resting on His shoulders. And His shoulders are strong enough to bear that weight for all of us. Allow yourself to celebrate the Calm, the Peace, and the Truth of Christmas. Daily seek to find your joy in Jesus and let Him direct your paths.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding Joy in the promise of Christmas.

 

Finding Truth in Christmas

close up of christmas decorations
Photo by Tofros.com on Pexels.com

At this time of year, we are surrounded by lies! If you buy this toy for your child, he or she will be smarter, or more creative, or at least happier on Christmas morning! If you get a particular credit card, you will have a lower interest rate and be able to buy more stuff you probably don’t need anyway! If you purchase a specific brand of appliance or drive a particular make of car, you will be popular and successful at your job and more attractive (think famous actor here). If you eat a certain type of food or consume that special beverage, your life will be so much better! You’ll be skinnier, fitter, stronger, better looking, and stress-free! Who wouldn’t want all of that, right? But most of the claims are simply not true. They’re just there to get you to put more money into someone else’s pocket.

During the Christmas Season, even some of the most beautiful and sacred stories get twisted a bit by lies of omission. For example, we only want to see the precious baby Jesus in a lovely manger with angels standing by. We don’t look at the reality of a stark, cold, smelly stable, complete with manure and dirt. There was hunger. There was danger. And there was fear and uncertainty. It was anything but pleasant. We just don’t like to talk about that part very much. 

So, what is your truth about your role as a family caregiver? And what do you tell yourself, day after day, that isn’t really true? How can you overcome the negative feelings and find gifts of positivity and truth amid the turmoil and stress of the bright lights and pretty trappings of the holiday season?

Perhaps you chose to be a family caregiver, and you embrace every opportunity with an attitude of joy and gratitude. Maybe the role was thrust upon you by circumstances beyond your control. Whichever situation is your truth, there are sights, sounds, smells, and various messy things that you will face. At times you will almost assuredly feel totally unequipped for your daily responsibilities. It isn’t pretty, any more than that smelly, dirty stable in Bethlehem was. The Holy Family’s circumstances probably seemed less than beautiful to them in those hours. They were terrified and overwhelmed, but God sent help. There were shepherds, wise men, and others who came to experience the glory of the newborn Christ Child. Somehow, the circumstances surrounding his birth suddenly became manageable and glorious. 

In the same way, when the stress and hardships of your circumstances become your truth, you need to stop being the Lone Ranger and find someone to help out, or at least to better equip you for your current role. The journey a family caregiver travels is not easy. Still, there are many resources you can turn to when you feel like you are losing hope. Community or church-based support groups, respite care options, and emotional support from friends and family can all help. Look for your own shepherds and wise men to help guard, guide, and equip you with the resources you need. To find a support group near you, do a Google search for “caregiver support group (name of your community here).”

You can also find help at www.CaregiverStress.com, a website developed by Home Instead Senior Care to support family caregivers.

Here is the truth: God will provide a way. He always does! Betsy and I hope you’ll join the conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about the truth of being a family caregiver this Christmas.

 

Finding the Prince of Peace this Christmas

christmas tree with baubles
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

Finding Peace in Christmas 

The prophet Isaiah told us that the coming Messiah would be given several titles. Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, and The Prince of Peace. All people long for peace. We sing about it (“Let There Be Peace On Earth”, “Give Peace a Chance”, ”Peace Train”, “Peaceful, Easy Feeling”), and the idea is central to Christmas. Remember that the multitude of heavenly hosts that suddenly appeared to the shepherds were praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace to those on whom His Favor Rests”.

 So how is it that Christmas sometimes seems to chaotic and so far from being peaceful? The holiday season is downright frenetic in nature, and because of that Christmas can leave anyone feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. If you add on the stress of being a family caregiver, this is especially true!

So often, family caregivers have to manage many other areas of responsibility besides their loved one’s care. Children have programs, there are extra parties and events, and most jobs get more stressful as companies are pressing for end of year goals. And then, on top of all of these things, what do you do when your aging loved one adds one more demand or experiences an unexpected event like a fall or other health-related episode that requires your time and presence? It’s easy and understandable to feel completely out of control. Tempers can get short, and you can feel anything but peaceful.

Having your priorities in place before the tidal wave of bright lights and pretty wrapping paper engulfs you is critical. And maintaining balance may require you to say “No” to some things. Try making the list of activities and then separate them into the columns of “Must Do”, “Ought to Do”, and “Want to Do”.  Its always best to prioritize ahead to time, but sometimes family caregivers have to triage the schedule in the midst of the storm. Just remember that one of your “Must Do” items is spending daily time with the Prince of Peace Himself. When you make him the absolute priority, everything always seems to fall into place, and His Peace that passes all understanding fills your soul. May you experience that peace in your life this Christmas!

 

Finding Calm in Christmas

red lighted candle
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

Christmas is a season of many emotions, but calmness isn’t usually one of them in our family’s world! Between work responsibilities, church activities, community celebrations, and other seasonal obligations, we barely have time to breathe! How about you? Is there a sameness in your daily routines during this hectic season, or does your family caregiver’s world also get a little crazy in the holidays? Trying to manage a reasonable observance of the season while also maintaining balance in the rest of your life can leave even the best of organizers feeling like they can’t do even one more thing!

But at its very heart, Christmas should hold an element of calm and quiet. Historically our celebration of Christmas is one of anticipation, much as that night so long ago when the world held its breath as it awaited the long-promised arrival of a Savior. Except for Mary and Joseph, the rest of that Jewish/Roman world was business-as-usual. Except for an angelic choir prepping for the big announcement, Heaven was pretty much the same as always. But on a spiritual level, the suspense was building, and the expectant couple was at the epicenter of a global event that would change not only their world but yours and mine as well.

As you care for an aging loved one over the coming weeks, try to find and anchor yourself in the calm of Christmas. Search out the quiet moments to reflect on the mystery of what was about to happen in the weeks leading up to Christ’s birth. Reflect on the Virgin, who was expecting a child any day now, riding a donkey to Bethlehem, wondering how she came to be in this predicament. Wonder at Joseph’s obedience in marrying her despite her unconventional condition. Marvel at the strange situation in which they found themselves. Try not to jump ahead to amazing visits from shepherds and angels but find His presence now in these moments you hold in your hand. Ponder on them as you breathe deeply through today. Perhaps even take yourself out of your routine and make some space to worship a God Who came down and became human to dwell among us and show us how to love and care for those He puts in our charge.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about finding calm in Christmas.

Talkin’ Turkey with Aging Loved Ones

wild turkey
Photo by ASHISH SHARMA on Pexels.com

Chris and I love Thanksgiving! We host a large family gathering at our house each year. We cook far too much food, laugh frequently, and reflect with gratitude on the many blessings in our lives. This week, as our adult children return home and extended family members make the trip north, we are busy making extensive shopping lists and dusting everything in sight!

Often when adult children come home to their aging parents for the holidays, they are surprised to see that mom and dad aren’t keeping up with things like they once did. I reflect on my own experiences with my mother in her last couple of years. My visits home increased in frequency, and I became aware of several warning signs that she needed more help.

  • First, there was the kitchen. Clean dishes and storage containers were left out on the counters instead of being put away in cabinets. These items were more comfortable to reach when my mother needed one, but in her small kitchen, it also eliminated counter space for meal preparation.
  • This observation reinforced my second conclusion: virtually all of her meals consisted of pre-packaged foods that needed no preparation or just needed to go into the microwave for a few minutes. Her nutritional health was compromised by these convenience choices.
  • My third realization was how she was dressing. My mother never tried to be “smartly dressed,” but she always wore clean clothes and was well-groomed. I became concerned the day she asked me if I thought she smelled unpleasant. I had already observed that she frequently wore the same outfit for several days in a row, even when food stains were visible to my eye.
  • Then there was the problem of bathing. Taking a bath took considerable effort, so she only bathed a couple of times weekly, even though she had a CAREGiver from Home Instead who could have helped her wash more often.
  • Because she worried that she might have body odor, my mom began to only go out socially on the days she took a bath. I noticed this trend as a fifth warning sign. The woman who never missed any church gathering and worked actively in her church until she was well into her 90’s was now more inclined to sit at home on Sunday morning and watch TV church.

If you get to spend time with aging loved ones this Thanksgiving holiday, tune-up your observational skills and notice the little things. Maybe the house isn’t as clean or neat as it used to be, or the yard isn’t well-tended. Perhaps you see stacks of bills, and a few are 2nd notices. The food in the frig doesn’t look too fresh, and there’s not a tasty variety of groceries.

As I observed my mother’s increasing need for more help at home, I was in a position to know what needed doing. I talked with my brother, and together we approached our mother with our concerns. As a united front, we created a plan that gave our mother more help when we couldn’t be there and gave us more peace of mind about her safety and health.

Is it time to talk turkey with your parents and explore whether they may need some extra help with their daily routines? If one of them appears to be in a more significant decline, consider whether caregiving responsibilities could be too much for the other. Assure them that asking for help is a sign of wisdom, not of infirmity. It’s much better to embrace a little help early on than to resist assistance and end up in trouble later on. Here are some great tips to help start the conversation! There’s also a printable booklet if you prefer a hard copy.

Chris and I are thankful for all those family caregivers out in our communities this holiday season, and we pray God’s abundant blessings on this season of your life. We hope you will join the conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about talking turkey with your aging parents or relatives.